The creation and development of Black-owned businesses is the single most important issue in the African-American community today.
Holding marches, voting for the right politician and sharing a lunch counter with White people aren’t going to give us true power in a capitalist society. We’re only going to be able to get ahead by creating our own businesses and owning things, which will then create our jobs.
Controlling wealth and resources will also translate into additional political power, which will then open the door to solving some of the most pressing matters that we are faced with today.
Feasting over scraps
White people aren’t hiring Black people at the same rate they are hiring other Whites. While the rest of America moans and wails over 6 or 7 percent unemployment, Black people are expected to cheer when our unemployment rate is 12 percent. So, just like during slavery, we are expected to feast over the scraps that have been left by a society that was structured around our oppression, marginalization, mass incarceration and familial extermination.
With that being said, Black people must commit to being builders, not borrowers and beggars.
Waiting for the White man to save you is like an abused wife hoping that her violent husband will boost her self-esteem. There is nothing more ridiculous than depending on someone else to feed and educate your children. Some might even say that it’s a form of mental illness.
Brave Black business owners are fighting to claim our economic independence, but it’s not easy.
Many of us haven’t been taught how to survive on our own, and it’s even worse when some of the greatest White supremacists in America also happen to have Black skin. So here are a few things I’ve found to be most difficult about being a Black entrepreneur:
1. Lack of access to capital. Banks are mostly run by White people. White people loan money to each another. So, while White start-up companies often find millions to finance even bad ideas, the best Black-owned businesses end up starving for capital. The Small Business Administration, even with a Black president in office, loans almost nothing to Black businesses, and this is DESPITE the fact that many of the banks in America became rich by using slave labor.
2. Lack of support from small-minded people. If you ever want to be ostracized by members of your family, tell them that you’re quitting that good corporate job to start your own business.
Because most of us were never taught about the risks of depending on your oppressors to pay your bills, many of us believe that a high salary actually means you have real power or have made meaningful progress.
Being a Black entrepreneur might lead to some relatives making fun of you for not making enough money, or asking why you don’t have a “real job.” It’s sad, because many of us can’t imagine life without working for the White man, primarily because we were raised to think this way from birth.
Even though you might be dedicating your life to the company you work for, you can’t pass that job onto your children when you die. When you roll over and pass away from a heart attack, they will push you out of your chair, replace you by the end of the week, and pretend you were never there in the first place.
It’s often after years of racist insults, not getting the jobs they are qualified for, and seeing all of the good jobs and promotions go to the White guy down the hall that a lot of Black people are starting to say “f**k this,” and leaving their corporate plantation for good. Some might ask if you should have ever been there in the first place.
3. Lack of expertise. Since integration, Black people have forgotten how to build our own institutions. We believe that jobs are things that someone else gives to us, rather than something we can create for ourselves.
We can also have an intense fear of the uncertainty that comes with freedom, where you’re the one making the decisions that most impact your life. This lack of understanding can cause many of us to freeze up and let life pass us by. When you allow your fear to make all of your decisions for you, you’ve basically made yourself into a non-factor in the game of life.
One of the reasons I left Syracuse University and created The Black Wealth Boot Camp is so like-minded Black people can share ideas and resources, which I find to serve as a major impediment to the fear that many of us feel when going out on our own. Just like slaves running away from the plantation, the journey north is not nearly as scary when you have other people to lean on. Many of us are first-generation economic liberators, and it can be difficult to learn what you need to know.
4. Lack of trust from other Black people. I rarely hear a Black person complain about the hundreds of dollars he spent at Wal-Mart, going to the movies, or buying a new car from Ford. I also never hear things like, “All those White business owners are crooks with bad service.” But familiarity can breed contempt, which leads some Black people to believe that any Black person requesting payment for their services must somehow be a crook.
The same guy who just spent $250 on a pair of Nike sneakers might call a Black man a scam artist because he tried to sell him a $20 book. The dude who just dropped $80 at the movies two days earlier might not donate $10 to a Black institution because he thinks the organization is going to pocket his cash.
Most of the corporations we give our money to don’t even hire very many Black people. So, common sense suggests that even if we have to pay a premium to support a Black-owned business, it would make sense to give our money to institutions that are hiring people who look like us.
The Black unemployment rate is typically twice as high as that of Whites. White companies aren’t hiring Black people at the rate they should, and among Black people who actually get the jobs, many of them hate going to work. In a recent Black Wealth Boot Camp survey, over 50 percent of our respondents said they hate their jobs; 16 percent were unemployed; and over 95 percent of them said they’d been victims of workplace discrimination.
The conclusion of this data is very simple: The ONLY way for the Black man or woman to find quality, satisfying employment opportunities is to develop businesses within our own communities.
5. Lack of mutual support from other ethnic groups. Some people say that Black people don’t have the ability to create jobs, but that’s not true at all. Actually, we create millions of jobs for other people on a regular basis.
Some refer to Black communities as “liquid money,” because we are the only group of people in America who will let other people set up businesses in our neighborhoods, suck us dry financially, and give nothing back – not even jobs. We are trained at a young age to sign our own economic and political death certificate by gaining an early-life addiction to giving our resources to those who want to see our children either dead or in prison.
In America’s economic system, Black people are an expendable, low-value resource, like chickens being raised in small coops so they can be slaughtered and served at KFC. In his popular book, “Black Labor, White Wealth,” Dr. Claud Anderson says this:
“We have further handicapped ourselves by some of our own beliefs and behaviors. Our dogged pursuit of integration is one example. In so doing, we have destroyed our communities, diluted our numerical strength and become dependent upon others. We have been further handicapped by our inability to practice group economics in a capitalist democracy.
“We have been a key capitalistic element in the national empowerment plan of others – as a source of free or cheap labor. Yet, we have never had a national empowerment plan of our own.”
What Dr. Anderson is saying is that everyone wants to eat the chicken, but no one cares about the well being of the chicken or his family. Black people, you are the chicken and other people are eating well because of your existence. They expect you to be loyal to their products and services, but they would never be loyal to yours.
Go into a predominantly Jewish, Indian or Chinese neighborhood and start a business. No matter how good your product or service is, and no matter how efficiently priced, they WILL NOT GIVE YOU THEIR MONEY. While we might think that this kind of treatment is a form of racism, others might define it to be a key to economic survival.
For thousands of years, a variety of ethnic groups have survived with what I’ve often referred to as “Economic fortification.” This basically means supporting businesses in your own communities, to ensure that the money you spend stays within your own financial ecosystem. Think of it like being on a spaceship with limited oxygen. If you recycle your air, you will survive longer than if you send all of your air out the back of the spaceship.
Economic fortification is critical in a world where money and power make the difference between life and death. The majority of political decisions are driven by money, and by giving all of our money away to our oppressors; we leave ourselves weak and defenseless.
Some of us believe that if we whine and cry loud enough and explain our plight to others, someone will come along and give us what we want. The truth is that others end up laughing at us. No one respects a group of people that have to beg in order to feed their children.
Here’s a newsflash
Most powerful White people don’t give a *&^ %$ about Black unemployment, mass incarceration, urban violence, miseducation, poverty or any of the other things that affect our communities. As much as your political science teacher may have told you that we all have equal access to the American dream, the majority of White people have no interest in saving you. Many are surprised at how little interest we have in saving ourselves.
To the Black business owners who are striving for a better life, I applaud you. You are the pioneers who will be remembered by our great grandchildren 100 years from today. For those of you who are investing in Black businesses as either co-owners or customers, I applaud you as well. For those who think Black businesses are a waste of time, I feel sorry for you. This world is going to eat you alive.
Economic power is a form of warfare. We must educate ourselves on how this game works, and position ourselves to win. It will take decades to achieve our goals, but the battle is worth it. The well being of our children hangs in the balance, so we must commit ourselves to rising above the ignorance – no matter the cost.
Dr. Boyce Watkins earned a Ph.D. in Finance and is founder of The Black Wealth Boot Camp (http://theblackwealthbootcamp.com).